November 10, 2021

NM poised to get billions of dollars in funding for infrastructure

Photo Credit: MTSOfan cc

New Mexico is poised to get billions of dollars in infrastructure investments through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that is awaiting President Joe Biden’s signature.

This bipartisan infrastructure package passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday and previously cleared the U.S. Senate.

During a press conference on Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat, described this legislation as the largest investment in infrastructure since the New Deal, nearly a century ago. He said more than $3.7 billion in formula funding alone will go to New Mexico and more money will be available through competitive funding such as grants.

Heinrich and three other members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation participated in the press conference to highlight the various investments that will be coming to the state through the legislation. These investments include water infrastructure, highways, bridges, wildfire prevention efforts, plugging orphaned oil and gas wells and expanding the electric vehicle charging network.

“The reality is that New Mexico has long been held back by a systemic lack of investment in our infrastructure,” Heinrich said. “And the pandemic really laid bare the stark realities that too many of our families still lack access to clean drinking water, much less high speed internet. With the infrastructure investment and jobs act, we will finally be able to change this for so many people across our great state.” 

U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján called the legislation historic and said it will help New Mexicans tackle the climate crisis head on while also expanding the broadband network and “providing a much-needed boost to small businesses”

U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell, a Republican, was the only member of New Mexico’s congressional delegation to vote against the bill and has expressed concerns with its large price tag. She did not join the other members of the delegation in the press conference. The total package includes about $1.2 trillion in spending over ten years.

The package includes various provisions to address or mitigate climate change impacts, including $38 million over the next five years for New Mexico to protect against wildfires. Heinrich said this includes wildland defense grants, thinning, prescribed burns and a collaborative forest landscape restoration program that has a proven track record but has not been funded at the level to meet the needs in the past.

“As Nuevo Mexicanos, we know the devastation brought on by climate change, from less water for acequias to damaging wildfires and droughts,” said Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández. “It’s clear to us that we need a just transition with the necessary investment to create those good paying jobs for our communities, especially our legacy fossil fuel communities that powered our country for generations.”

Energy investments

This bill comes as the impacts of climate change are becoming more evident, from declining water reservoirs to more intense wildfires. These impacts have underscored the need to transition away from fossil fuel energy, which produces greenhouse gas emissions.

“It is so important that we show the world and the country that we mean business in terms of meeting our climate agreements and that we are going to address our carbon footprint, investing in clean energy infrastructure,” Rep. Melanie Stansbury said. “Our grid, our energy and our vehicle infrastructure is crucial to actually addressing our carbon footprint and making good on those promises to addressing the climate crisis.” 

One way that the package will help reduce the emissions is through a $3.5 billion nationwide investment in energy efficiency, Heinrich said. He said this could benefit families in New Mexico by reducing the amount of electricity needed to heat, cool and power homes.

“The cheapest cleanest energy is the energy we don’t need to use in the first place,” he said.

The package also includes funding to help in the transition from internal combustion engines to electric vehicles. Over the next five years, the state will see a $38 million investment in electric vehicle charging infrastructure and will have the chance to apply for additional grant funding to expand the charging network. There is a total of $2.5 billion in additional grant funding available through the bill.

“We get a nice chunk just at the beginning, but then we have the option to go after this bigger pot,” Leger Fernández said.

Heinrich said electric vehicle charging needs to be built in rural communities and that the delegation will work with the governor and state legislature to “make sure that when they receive those funds, that we are plugging the gaps and those gaps are in our smaller rural communities.”

“When you pull up an app on your phone to see where you can charge in some place like Albuquerque or Santa Fe, it’s no big deal, but it is a big deal in other places, and that’s why we need to work with them to plug those gaps,” he said.

Stansbury and Luján praised the rural electric cooperatives, especially in the northern part of the state, for their work at developing electrification plans to address electric vehicle transportation.

Luján and Leger Fernández have been pushing for legislation that would address the orphaned oil and gas wells that have been left behind without any owner of record to hold accountable for cleaning them up. Luján authored the REGROW Act and introduced it earlier this year. The bipartisan infrastructure package incorporates this legislation, providing $4.7 billion to plug orphaned wells, thus reducing methane pollution. 

“Plugging these orphaned wells will create hundreds of well paying jobs in our state and thousands across the country,” Leger Fernández said.

Water investments

Over the next five years, New Mexico will receive $335 million to improve water infrastructure. This includes funding for a pipeline that will take water from Ute Lake to communities like Clovis that have historically relied on the dwindling Ogallala aquifer. This project is known as the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Project.

The bill also includes $3.5 billion to address the nation-wide backlog of water projects in Indigenous communities under the Indian Health Services sanitation facilities construction program.

Stansbury said many New Mexico communities, including Navajo Nation chapters, are experiencing water crises. She said the state desperately needs to put the funding to work for rural communities and tribal communities all over the state, including the colonias in the south and the rural areas in the north. 

Leger Fernandez highlighted that the package provides funding to complete the Navajo-Gallup water supply project “as currently authorized.” However, because of the time that it has taken to complete this project, she said there will likely be cost overruns and more funding will be needed.

Build Back Better

While the Democratic members of the state’s congressional delegation praised the passage of the bipartisan infrastructure package, Stansbury said the work is only half way done. This is because another piece of legislation, the Build Back Better Act, has not yet passed. That package would expand healthcare access, invest in creating universal pre-kindergarten, invest in care for senior citizens and invest in what Stansbury said would be “the largest ever commitment to addressing the climate crisis and climate resilience that the United States has ever made.”

“That is why we’re going to return back to Congress next week and hopefully pass it out of the house and get it across the finish line in the Senate and get it to the President’s desk. Because we know that if we pass these two bills, they will literally transform lives, not only in New Mexico, but across the country,” Stansbury said.

Leger Fernandez said the Build Back Better Act will include key pieces of legislation she sponsored to establish an idle well fee for oil and gas producers and to strengthen oil and gas bonding requirements.

“The infrastructure bill is just the first step,” she said. “We’re committed to passing the Build Back Better Act because it’s para la gente, it’s for our community.”